1. I’ll start by saying that it’s easy to get lost in always viewing the games through the lens of your own team. I believe in sociology they call it “ethnocentrism.” In the NBA we can probably call it “Thundercentrism.” The ultimate point being that sometimes the outcomes of games aren’t always decided by what YOU do, but by what the other team does (or doesn’t do). Anthony Davis is unquestionably one of the best players in the league. He’s basically an impossible match up when he’s at the very top of his game. The issue for NOLA is that there just isn’t much around him, so it’s hard for them to win whenever he is a A- as opposed to an A+. But in individual game situations, he is fully capable of winning for the Pelicans essentially on his own. That’s what he did tonight. I didn’t think the Thunder had a flawed plan or didn’t play with enough energy or anything like that. Davis was simply too much. He was the best player on the floor tonight and the Pelicans needed every bit of it. Thunder play the Pelicans four times. I think it’s reasonable to assume of the four, Davis is good for one win for them on his own. Thunder won the the first meeting. So with two left, hopefully NOLA and Davis got it out of their system. For tonight, hats off to a great player.
2. I’ve talked a lot this year about the Thunder ability to win even when shooting poorly from three point range. One of the reasons they can get away with this is because they are so good in other areas— namely on the defensive end. But one reason things have been better this year is that they are also much more efficient offensively— even on nights where shots aren’t falling. They take care of the ball better this year, move it better, finish stronger. They also generally out-rebound the opposition. Which sort of makes tonight stand out. They did not shoot the three well. They did not shoot free throws well. They did not rebound well. They did not take care of the ball. And Davis was going off on them. So if I’m a lawyer in a court of law making a case for the Thunder as an elite team in the league, I’m pointing to the fact that they really didn’t do anything particularly well tonight and still wound up with a chance to win the game with less than five seconds remaining. I was fine with the final possessions. I thought their best chance was after the got the stop with about 30 seconds left— they had an open floor opportunity but PG lost the ball.. he got it back and called time out but they missed an opportunity there. The next possession totally broke down, but the concept was fine. Russ tried to get the ball into the lane but fumbled it.. it then went from Dennis to Adams without either of them really looking at the basket before kicking it back out to Russ. At that point he sort of had to take a three. It wasn’t a good look by any means, but it also wasn’t the designed play and it wasn’t really Russ’s choice either. Just became a scramble and someone eventually had to shoot. On their final attempt it looked to me like they tried to run the same play they ran to PG in Brooklyn. But this time the defense stuck with PG and Russ instead found Abrines who missed a pretty good look. That was a really solid play and Russ did a nice job exhibiting patience and trust there. Just needed Alex to make it and he didn’t.
3. The one issue that is obvious right now is the hole being burned on the bench by Patterson/Abrines. The bench overall is much improved with Dennis and Noel, but the team is also relying on PP and Alex to be reliable shooters. It’s a team weakness and those are two guys that can reasonably be asked to help remedy it— instead they are making it worse. I have no issue with Donovan giving them plenty of rope here. We don’t have great alternative options. The only real option would be to extend the minutes of the young pups (Ferg, Diallo, Burton) and/or start giving Nader some chances. The problem with that is that the Thunder are trying to compete with the Warriors here. The goal is to build a team that can win the playoffs and relying on guys between the ages of 19-22 none of whom have any real playoff experience is far from ideal. For their own development, keeping them in lower stress situations may also be a good idea. They NEED veteran guys they can count on. Guys that have been around a bit and are capable of playing both ends of the floor. Patterson and Abrines fit that mold, but both of them are giving the team absolutely nothing right now. PP looks like his confidence is shot. This is becoming a them and it’s coming to a head. The irony is that if they decide to try and fix it via trade, they’d almost certainly have to trade one or more of the young guys in order to get it done. I’m not ready for that yet. I’d continue to give them chances. But it’s coming to a head soon.
4. I wanted one of two on the NOLA/Denver trip. I still do. I view the game at Denver as being the first really “big” game of the year. They beat us here once and they handled us pretty well last year too. It’s the toughest game on paper we’ve played in weeks. Before the Thunder can officially take the next step of establishing themselves as the #1 challenger in the West, they must first distance themselves from the middle of the pack. Denver is really good, but they aren’t elite. It’s time to show them that we intend to first win the division and then take aim at bigger fish.